Fly like an eagle
Nature's Notebook - Tim Abbott
October, 15, 2009
There was a bald eagle perched on a snag just above the Housatonic River as I drove to work last week. Its great white head caught my eye from the shadows on the far bank of the river. There was a convenient place to pull over right opposite its perch, so I stood there in admiration until the bird took wing and flew low over the water to a large white pine at the next bend in the river. There it remained, seemingly indifferent to the outraged cries of crows attracted by its flight.
The stretch of river below West Cornwall attracts many feathered fishermen as well as those attired by Orvis. There is almost always a great blue heron or two perched on rocks among the riffles, and a group of resident mergansers as well. This year in particular, the water has stayed higher and cooler with such a wet summer, and that has kept the anglers busy along with the birds.
One sometimes hears grumbling about the amount of trout caught, but not released, by these birds, but it seems to me that a river with eagles is a good indicator of a well-stocked fishery.
The recovery of the bald eagle from a precipitous decline is due in large measure to the ban on DDT and protection under the Endangered Species Act in the early 1970s.
By 2007, the bald eagle had been delisted as a federally threatened species, although it is still protected from hunting and illegal collection under the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940 and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
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There are now close to 9,800 breeding pairs in the 48 contiguous states, although the bald eagle is still rare in Connecticut. It wasn’t until 1992 that the first returning pair established a nest in the state. They are not known to breed along the freeflowing sections of the Housatonic, but some eagles will overwinter here unless it completely ices over. They tend to concentrate where there are large water bodies, such as the Shepaug Dam on the lower Housatonic, or along the broad Connecticut River.
Bald eagles, wild turkeys, beaver, bear and moose, once driven from Connecticut, have made promising and even dramatic returns. Today we live alongside each other — not always easily — but whether encountered in midstream or in our very backyards, these species are evidence of extraordinary resilience and adaptation.
Not every plant or animal is able to make such adjustments, and habitat destruction remains the single greatest cause of biodiversity loss worldwide. Still, the landscape of northwest Connecticut retains a wild and scenic character, where coyotes howl and eagles soar despite centuries of settlement.
It is not difficult to imagine a time when even western mountain lions will venture a furtive paw in the Litchfield Hills as they gradually track eastward. Whether we would accommodate the presence of a top predator of their caliber in our neighborhood is an open question, but it is certainly something to ponder. And it certainly makes my heart glad to see eagles here.
Tim Abbott is program director of Housatonic Valley Association’s Litchfield Hills Greenprint. His blog is at greensleeves.typepad.com.
© Copyright 2009 by TCExtra.com
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